The practice of tattooing has become quite popular in recent decades. States have adopted a range of laws governing this profession because of the inherent risks to personal and public health involved, including criminal penalties.
This article will review common state and local laws regulating tattooing and the criminal penalties for violating these laws.
While not all states require someone giving a tattoo to have a license, most of them have training or apprenticeship requirements of some kind. Additionally, some cities or municipalities have adopted ordinances that apply to tattooing that may add requirements beyond those required by the state. In many states, it is a crime to give someone else a tattoo without having a proper state or local license, training, or supervision.
Many states require that individual tattoo artists be licensed, as well as tattoo business establishments. And, in some states, tattoo artists can only work out of fixed licensed locations, not pop-up shops or mobile shops.
In states that require or allow for tattoo artist apprenticeships, the apprentice can practice only under the guidance or supervision of a properly licensed artist. For example, if you are an apprentice tattoo artist, you cannot give tattoos unless you are being supervised by a licensed tattooist.
In many states, the definition of tattooing doesn't generally require that any kind of compensation be exchanged between the person giving the tattoo and the person receiving it. This means, for example, that if a friend gives you a tattoo at home for free and isn't licensed, your friend has committed a crime even though they never asked for or received any payment from you.
Most states also make it a crime to give a minor (younger than 18) a tattoo. Some of these laws are blanket prohibitions against anyone giving a tattoo to a minor, while others allow for minors to get tattoos if they have the permission of a parent or guardian.
State laws can be strict in this area. Some require a parent or guardian to be present with their child, and the parent must present photo identification. If a parent isn't present, some states require a notarized written permission statement from them. Anyone who tattoos a minor in violation of these laws faces criminal penalties.
Depending on your state laws or local regulations, tattooing a minor or tattooing without appropriate licensing, registration, or supervision can lead to criminal charges, on top of professional repercussions.
Most of these crimes carry misdemeanor penalties, punishable by fines and possible jail time. Fines might be in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Most state misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail, although minor offenses (especially first-time offenses) would likely be eligible for sentencing alternatives that avoid jail time, such as probation or diversion.
While some states impose only minor penalties for someone who tattoos without a license, the penalties in other states and in some circumstances can be more severe. Not only can you face incarceration and significant fines, but if you are a professional tattoo artist or someone aspiring to be one, your ability to practice your profession can be seriously limited if not permanently derailed.
If you are facing criminal charges relating to tattooing, speak to a local criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help you under the criminal legal system, as well as possible professional repercussions for having a criminal record.